Frankly Put: Thoughts of a Half Cast Human
Today I was asked a question that although rare, I have received before and it has led me to near existentialism on one or two instances.
As I sat in the back of an Uber, the driver decided to shoot the question after a minimal conversation about fuelling the car mid-trip. As we are nearing the destination, I was mentally away and trying to keep myself awake when he quipped up, “And can I ask you, sir, are you Kenyan? Your accent doesn’t sound like here. You sound like you are Nigerian or European.” Beyond my slight confusion, there existed a little bit of curiosity.
I mean, as far as I know, my accent is pretty Kenyan. Did I say something that doesn’t sound Kenyan? Was it the way my Kiswahili sounded? Did I need to speak in sheng’? These were some of the questions I had running through my mind when he said this. Like… European? He even went ahead to ask me about my tribe just to confirm like it was a two-factor authorization to my nationality? Is this a sign from the Big Guy upstairs that I should finally move out of the country?
Then again, I recognize that there are many words or phrases that I use that are not very “Kenyan”, just a function of the content I consume. I question does that fluency in English or Kiswahili have its say in it? (cue “you are fluent in the language for an African” comments) It goes beyond the accent. It is very evident that it percolates through my life that I exist in a space of neither… nor/ either… or. Ha! exact middle child experience but that is a story for another day.
Back to the conversation with the driver, I found myself consciously describing myself as “mixed” in my tribe. l realised it doesn’t serve me to say I am of a single dominant tribe because that heritage I am choosing to minimise is part of me. Yes, I am built like the Luyha side but I’ve got the hair of the Kikuyu side. I’m neither as dark as the Luyha nor as light as the Kikuyu. My tongue slips in both ways of “mother tongue influence” — as my secondary school teacher so fondly called it. I love tea twice as much because of it too.
I think back to conversations had in my past where I would take on only one side given well… tradition and it seems to erode the other side. I think back to wishing I was either…or and not both because it would make things easier in certain situations. Maybe it would take away any reason for my incompetencies. Take for example something like language. Bloody language.
I remember interactions where I was looked down upon for not knowing my mother tongue and how internally that framed my cultural identity so negatively. In the Harry Potter world — a “mud-blood” so to speak. People would speak over me in my mother tongue and I could only sit there and try to decipher whatever words I picked up to know what they were talking about. “How do you not know your language?”
I agree, it could be a way to pick up the language but at the same time, I would do that, pick up one then travel to the other side and doing that again meant I lost what I learnt from the first side, come home and not use either with the exception of a few throwaways. The cycle, a vicious one, would bring me back to zero at the end of it all. I guess that is a little bit of what being halfcast or mixed looks like.
It is going “home” and not feeling enough of that side to feel at home. It is feeling more comfortable in a city, where everyone is of many different things and that makes you feel you belong in that space. I think that more so instils the “city baby” air that I can’t quite shake even if I crave the country feel. “Watu wa diaspora” — so affectionately called.
It is adding another step to learning the culture you come from. Heaven forbid they are contradicting cultures. It is listening to people paint this beautiful image of their cultural background and yours just looks like a mix-and-match abstract piece you are trying to make sense of. Learning more is only adding more paint and splotches that you are supposed to make sense of. Ugh.
Still, I have come to appreciate it. How it leaves me a blank slate to colour in whatever way I see fit with the lessons I learn. How I can relate between worlds even beyond just tribes but people. I think to how it makes me a lot more welcoming of other cultures and I am drawn to learning more about them as I do so with my own.
This limbo has become a home and my self-acceptance made it so. I am not perfect Kikuyu, I am not perfect Luhya but damn it that makes me perfectly Kenyan. Perfectly African. Perfectly human.
This accent is an amalgamation of human experience and appreciation of language. The culture I have is the intermarriage of heritage and people who once walked separate but are now one within me. The effects of this will one day trickle down to the next generation and I hope that one day they would come to love their culture out of their own choice. Perhaps we need diversity of self to understand diversity of people.
I suppose “either… or”// “neither… nor” is a choice in how I am to accept all I will come to call sides of me and being half cast is an avatar of the diversity chaos, to put it Frankly.